Physically I was ready to run 26.2 miles. Other than a sore lower back and the fact that I probably spent too much time on my feet sightseeing in DC the day before, I was feeling healthy and strong. I had dropped a few pounds, been going to yoga, and even clocked some sub 9 minute miles during training. My long runs had been successful and uneventful. My recovery from them had been smooth. I had even run the KC half in my fastest time ever two weeks prior, finishing under two hours, with a PR of 1:58 (which I realize now I didn’t even write about). With the experience of 2 prior marathons, I felt I was as prepared as I could be for the race.
I was not prepared. I wasn’t fully prepared for what it would be like to run shoulder to shoulder with people for 4 hours and 42 minutes. This race had close to 30,000 finishers (and I finished 7,683rd overall and 551st out of 1,511 women in the 30-34 division. Proof here). There were times when I thought it was pretty cool, but mostly I was not a fan. It’s exhausting both physically and mentally. There is near constant adjusting of your stride, pace, and position so that you’re not bumping into people. In every other race I’ve done, things are usually crowded for the first few miles and then everybody spreads out and finds their own groove. You eventually have room to move and breathe and settle in. There was none of that at the Marine Corps Marathon. Maybe it’s different for the speedsters at the front, or the way back of the pack, but when you’re part of the Clyde Army running 10:30 miles, somebody is all up in your business for pretty much the entire race. For the first couple hours it was possible for me to adopt an attitude of: “Yay! We’re all in this together! The People’s Marathon. This is cool!” But after bumping and jostling and jockeying for position at water stops and dodging walkers that were sometimes teams of people 5-across, with no open spaces in sight, my attitude was much more, “For fuck’s sake! Get the hell out of my way, dumbass!” I know, I’m awful. Here’s a link to the photos of me taken on the course. See? So. Many. People.
Oh, and it was also beastly hot. Like 80 degrees when we finished. The sun really came out around mile 18 or maybe it was before that. I have no concept of time or distance really. People were suffering immensely. I read that they ran out of cups at some of the water/Gatorade stations and if you didn’t have a water bottle or hydration pack with you, Marines would just pour water straight into your mouth from gallon jugs. Yikes. Glad I wasn’t in that predicament. I did run with my little magnetic holster water bottle for the first time during a race. Mostly because it keeps my Flipbelt from riding up, but those precious 8 oz. came in handy between stops and I refilled it multiple times along the way. Early on, perhaps mile 6 or so, I felt like I had to pee, but each bank of porta potties I passed had a huge line of people and I didn’t want to wait. The sensation eventually went away; this is one of the great mysteries of distance running. Once again, lots of dudes in line for the potties, which I sort of respect, but I am hoping/assuming if you’re a dude taking up a precious spot in that line, you desperately have to shit. And you’re having a bad time. And I feel sorry for you. Because men were peeing everywhere. Literally hundreds of them bounding into and out of the tree lines and grassy areas, sometimes with little coverage. Like I am seeing urine streams as I’m running. I’m slightly disgusted, but mostly just jealous. Runners are gross.
Between miles 15 and 19 I was suffering from some serious fatigue. Not in my legs, but in my brain due to sensory overload. Having trained alone for months on empty roads and trails, the constant noise of all the screaming spectators and cowbells and bands and people was starting to wear on me. At Grandma’s Marathon they bus you 18 miles away from the city and you basically run back along a deserted highway. So I was not prepared for the wall of people and noise that would nearly the entire course. It was like a finishing chute for 20 miles. Sometimes I draw energy from the crowd, but at this race it was like taking them all in was sucking the energy from me. This was a huge bummer because this was the stretch through what I think was a cool park (but I couldn’t see it through all the f-ing people) nearing the Smithsonian museums and heading up Constitution Avenue. There were a few blissful open spaces like this one, where people weren’t allowed next to the course. The other time that happened was on a long stretch of bridge, which took me over to Crystal City where our hotel was, and where Dan would be somewhere trying to spectate in this madness.
I managed to spot him sometime after mile 21 I think. It was a pretty uplifting 6 seconds. The Pentagon/Crystal City stretch sucked ass. Yes, there were animal crackers to eat, and a big misting fan set up on one street, but even louder, more annoying techno music throughout the “family festival” with bounce houses and whatnot made it somehow more obnoxious. Plus with lots of turns and out and backs, it just seemed like they tacked on those miles because they needed to make the course longer. The sun was really beating down. I ran the whole race with my $2 plastic sunglasses from a Piper senior project (because I forgot to pack the ones I typically run with) and I was eventually glad I had them, despite being annoyed by them the first few miles. Dan texted me shortly after I saw him and said that he would just meet me back at the hotel, meaning he wouldn’t be going to the finish line like we had talked about. At first I was pissed. I’m running 26.2 miles and you can’t get on the Metro and find your way to the finish? Then I got to the finish and I was so thankful he didn’t go there. He was advised not to attempt it by the wise souls he met drinking morning beers at Buffalo Wild Wings.
So the last 3 miles I completely kicked ass. I was a running machine. Powering forward. My Garmin clocked my fastest miles at this point. The people around me were a wreck. The walking wounded. Everyone was walking. Everyone. They were like zombies in a movie. If they weren’t walking, they were completely stopped on the side of the road trying to stretch or pull themselves together. I appeared to be blazing through them, an elite powering through the pack, dodging miserable people left and right. I did feel like a total badass in that home stretch. Being slow and steady had paid off. Yes, I was tired and hot and frustrated, but not injured, sick, cramping, or experiencing the level of hurt and misery of the people I was leaving in my wake. I felt great. I’ve since read several race recaps of people having their worst marathon ever that day. I had my best. Go, me!
The race ends with (what seems like) a big hill up near the Iwo Jima Memorial (The Marine Corps Memorial). I knew this. I mentally prepped for it. I was not stopping. I powered past Arlington National Cemetery, past more screaming fans, and turned the corner, attacking the hill. I had my head down and halfway up the hill, the dude in front of me comes nearly to a stop and decides to walk the rest of the way up. I have to stop short to keep from plowing into his back, and as I plant my right foot down hard, I feel my second toenail come loose in my right shoe. I was horrified. I could see the finish line at that point, so I told myself to just keep running and I would deal with it after I finished. I tiptoed gingerly over the finish line and began the long walk through the finishing chute to get my medal, fluids, foodbox, and selfie with a Marine. My Garmin said I ran 26.9 miles during that race. I kicked ass.
Then it was Operation: Find the UPS trucks. I didn’t want to stop at a first aid tent and unleash the horror of my feet until I had my sandals to change into, and the sandals were in my gear check bag. I walked. And walked. And walked. No trucks. I ate some watermelon. I drank some Gatorade. I got handed a koozie and a string bag. I was fully engulfed in the Finish Festival in Rosslyn complete with a beer tent and booths selling insurance and sub sandwiches and finisher shirts and the all new Hyundai. I had zero desire to be at the Finish Festival. More noise. More crowds. More walking. Near the stage featuring some kind of Marine Corps band, I finally asked someone holding a gear check bag where the trucks were. Back down a block the direction I had just come, and then over one more block. Of course. So I walked some more.
I found the trucks. I got my bag. I went into a first aid tent. I took my shoe off. I braced for the worst. My toenail was still attached and intact. No need for first aid today, gentlemen, thank you very much. I texted Dan that I thought I’d like some chips and guac from Chipotle, and possibly some chicken tacos too. Now I had to find a way back to that god forsaken Crystal City. There were supposed to be shuttles to take us back over, and since the morning shuttles to the start line were so awesome, I had high hopes for a return trip. But I didn’t know where the hell to find the shuttles. No signs anywhere. No specifics listed in the MCM app. I walked another block or two, and with no buses in sight, I went into the jam-packed Metro station, where everyone and their kids were trying to buy Metro cards. I took the stinkiest escalator ride ever down to the platform and waited with hundreds of others for a train.
I texted Dan that I was getting on a train and my phone was at 20%. Of course I stood for the whole train ride back to Crystal City. And then had a 3 or 4 block walk from the station back to the hotel. Despite slightly limping along in my flip flops, carrying 2 clear plastic bags full of assorted food, beverages and gear, that walk was awesome. It was actually one of my favorite parts of the day. I consider that my victory lap. It was finally quiet and calm. Since it was Sunday afternoon the streets were basically empty and I was the only person on the sidewalk, still moving forward with purpose. Feeling strong. Wearing my sweet ass medal. Even texting some friends and family members with my leftover battery life. Two guys walked by at one point near the hotel and congratulated me. Thank you. I did it. Holy shit, I did it. All by myself.
The coolest part of the race for me personally was not the PR, or the fact that I finished with all 10 toenails, or the monuments, or the spectators, or the Wear Blue Mile, or the Marines, or the funny signs, or the countless inspirational stories you could see unfolding throughout the course. The coolest part for me was the fact that so many people had taken the time to leave messages for me using the Motigo app and I got to listen to them at every mile along the course. Plus there was some narration from the Marine Corps race organizers where they told me what to look for in certain areas of the course, sort of like a guided audio tour. The app is basically a voicemail box that works with your phone’s GPS, and so when I would pass a certain mile mark, like mile 5, the messages that were left there for me automatically played in my headphones. (It ended up being off by about a half mile, but that didn’t really matter.) It lowered the volume of my podcast and I just got to listen to all these wonderful people saying nice, funny, encouraging things. It was like an episode of “This Is Your Life” (was that a real show or just something that was made up for TV?). I almost cried multiple times. I laughed out loud multiple times. I realized at like mile 4 that this was going to be the story of my race. This app, these voices, these people, how it was making me feel, would be what I remembered most about the day. And it was. And so perhaps I should have started writing about it sooner.
Lori was doing a joke of the mile–cheesy middle school principal jokes. So funny. Beth was chiming in all over the course. Sara was doing StuCo camp inside jokes and Earl punchlines. Kimmy was playing random clips from pump up songs and movies like Christmas Vacation and Napoleon Dynamite. Otto’s teacher, Jenny had recorded him saying what mile it was at nearly every mile (she had him record them all at recess at school). My parents also had Otto leave me special mommy messages along with recording ones of their own. Kathy left me the Phoebe running with Rachel clip from Friends. Vickie and Deb and Tamie all left some encouraging words and reminded me why I love my family. The podcast guys that I adore left me not one, not two, not three, but SIX different messages complete with How Was Your Run Today? theme music. And they live in Boston and have never even met me! Teri got both Taylor and Blake in on the action and they had way too much fun, reading fortune cookies and even recreating a dramatic scene from Friday Night Lights. Ashley found me a great quote. Cory came on three different times to give actual running coach advice about form and stride. Dan made a joke about buying fake Oakley sunglasses as I ran by the National Mall. Allison came on at mile 23 to support me the way she always has and say what I needed to hear: that for whatever reason mile 23 is so much closer than mile 22. Megan and Darcy reminded me of how far I’ve come as a runner. Adam got Evan to say sweet things and reminded me my phone could die at any moment. Former student Fallon complimented me and reminded me of why I like my job. Jess popped in from Fargo and I was blasted back to how I felt after my very first half marathon back in 2010.
The cheers started at mile 1 and continued non-stop. It was amazing. It was overwhelming. It was interesting how I transitioned from not feeling worthy of such attention to accepting it and owning it and feeling worthy as the miles went on. In some ways it was better than having spectators on the course because there was no stress about having to coordinate and spot them in the madness And the app saved all the messages so I can go back and replay them as many times as I want. Thanks you guys, you rock.
After a shower, Chipotle, ibuprofen, blister popping, and a nap, we got ready and headed back into DC to Union Station to board a trolley for a Monuments by Moonlight tour. It started to sprinkle as we were waiting, but the rain held off and we had a great night of sightseeing. It was totally worth all the extra walking and staying up past my bedtime.
It’s now a week later and my toenails are still hanging on, though I suspect I will eventually lose two of them. I turned 35 this week. (Holy shit, right?) I did some walking, light running, and yoga this week and did a 7.5 mile run yesterday and felt really good. It was nice to be alone on the road with my podcasts on a beautiful fall day.
I’m not sure what’s next for me, but obviously it will be something because I’m hooked. I’m watching marathons on TV, for crying out loud. I’d like to volunteer at a race and repay the favor, and hopefully it won’t mean pouring water down people’s throats.
The Route 66 Marathon is in 2 weeks in Tulsa and I am considering running either the half or the full. It’s not very often that I have “marathon fitness” that I can supposedly carry over to another event, so we’ll see. It is a race that also uses the Motigo app. Oh, and my adorable niece lives there too, which is a definite plus.
There’s so much more about our DC trip, but since this is 27 chapters long already and supposed to be a running blog, I’ll bring this to a close. I’m so appreciative of my body, of my family, of my friends, and of my country. I adored the fact that walking around Washington DC, not only was I surrounded by fellow marathoners, but by people from so many different countries and backgrounds, speaking different languages, often with their kids, all just wanting to experience or make a living in our nation’s capital. It was one of the most diverse places I’ve ever been and it was absolutely beautiful. Just a few days from election day, feeling like we’re more divided than ever, it was the reminder I needed that America is great. Not perfect, but pretty great, just as it is. Cheers!